Body found in California wildfire's path marks season's first fatality

A California Highway Patrol handout photo shows the the Klamathon Fire in Hornbrook, California, July 6, 2018.
A California Highway Patrol handout photo shows the the Klamathon Fire in Hornbrook, California, July 6, 2018.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

LOS ANGELES (REUTERS) - Crews fighting a fast-moving Northern California wildfire on Friday (July 6) discovered the charred remains of a person apparently caught in the flames, sheriff's officials said, marking the first such fatality in a particularly intense fire season across the state.

Investigators were trying to identify the man or woman found in the debris of a home burned to the ground by the Klamathon fire, which broke out Thursday near the Oregon border during a blistering California heat wave and quickly blackened more than 3,237 hectares.

"We don't know who it is, we're trying to do best we can to identify the person," said Lieutenant Jeremiah LaRue if the Siskiyou County Sheriff's Office.

Governor Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency for Siskiyou County, where flames have destroyed homes, forced the evacuation of some 400 people, knocked out power and temporarily forced the closure of Interstate 5, a major north-south artery running the length of California.

"I find that conditions of extreme peril to the safety of persons and property exists in Siskiyou County," Brown said in his proclamation, which frees up state resources to be devoted to fighting the wildfire.

The Klamathon is one of three dozen major wildfires that firefighters were battling across the US West as the region bakes under triple digit temperatures.

Fires have raged through more than 1.1 million hectares in the United States this year through Thursday, above the average of about 970,000 hectares for the same period over the last 10 years, according to the National Interagency Fire Centre.

Firefighting efforts across the Southwest have been hampered by scorching heat, low humidity and erratic winds.

Elsewhere in Northern California, crews had cut containment lines around an estimated 37 per cent of the County Fire in Yolo County, which has burned across some 350 sq km, destroying nine structures and putting 100 homes in danger.

That blaze, which broke out on Saturday in steep, inaccessible terrain about 72km north-west of Sacramento, has so far largely burned away from populated areas.

In San Diego County, a blaze that broke out near the community of Alpine on Friday and dubbed the West fire, was spreading quickly. Sheriff's officials said "multiple structures" had been burned and urged immediate evacuations for at least one neighbourhood.

In southern Colorado, a steady rain overnight slowed the growth of the largest wildfire burning in the state, which allowed crews to carve containment lines around 35 per cent of the blaze.

The Spring Fire has blackened nearly 43,000ha and destroyed at least 141 buildings since it ignited on June 27. It is the second-largest wildfire on record in the state, and authorities have accused a Danish national of setting the blaze.

Improved conditions have allowed some evacuation orders to be lifted, and a mountain pass road that was closed when the fire erupted will re-open on Saturday, state officials said.